College is a lot of things. It's the place where you transform from a high-school student to a (somewhat) career-ready adult. It's the place where the stresses of life actually start affecting you. It's the place where you learn what it actually feels like to be broke. College is where you meet the people who will change your life for the better. It's where you learn to balance responsibility and freedom, privacy and socializing or even maturity with fun. It's where you grow more emotionally, mentally and spiritually than ever before in your life. Want to know what college isn't, though? It isn't necessarily the "best four years of your life," nor does it have to be.
Where does this idea that everyone peaks in college come from? Who decided to spread the myth and the rumor that after college, life is just a downhill spiral? Why do adults always discourage college students by saying the infamous, "You better enjoy the time you have now; college is the best four years of your life" when students mention that they're ready to be done with school?
Here's the deal, though. If college is in fact the "best four years of your life," that's just plain sad.
Fifty years from now, I don't want to think back to all of the sweaty parties spent keeping up with your drunk friends, the sleepless nights spent in the library studying, the other sleepless nights spent in your bed listening to the loud party next door, the petty/immature arguments with the people who haven't quite grown up yet, the countless hours spent watching Netflix or the horrible anxiety felt before each final, speech or registration week. Fifty years from now, I want to remember college as a period of growth, as the beginning of lifelong friendships and as the foundation of the values and skills needed to survive the rest of the roller coaster of life.
I don't want to remember college in a regretful way — thinking I didn't "do college right" because I didn't love my time there as much as adults said I should. College is a mere four (or for some people, five) years of this crazy thing called life. Life, though, is about moving forward. Preschoolers look forward to elementary school; elementary schoolers look forward to middle school; middle schoolers look forward to high school and high schoolers look forward to college. It seems the logic supporting that college is the "best four years of your life" says that though life is about moving forward, college is the time to be stagnant and avoid the future. What kind of encouragement is that for students who are making decisions that will influence the rest of their lives? What kind of inspiration is that for students who are trying their hardest to build a future? What kind of motivation is that for students who are excited about the years to come?
I encourage you, college students, to use these four years as the starting block for the rest of your life. Take the hard times and grow from them. Take the stressful times and learn from them. Take the good times and cherish them. Take the fun times and remember them. Take the opportunities and seize them. Take these four years of your life, which may be the "best four years of your life" so far, and use them to prepare for and shape your future. Then, enjoy all of the highs and lows of life, looking back at college fondly but always remembering that there are even better times lying ahead.